The starter gun was fired to signal the beginning of the women’s 6K at the NCAA Division I Northeast Regional Championship on Friday. As the runners took off, redshirt senior Emily Mackay headed to the front of the pack where she stayed for the entirety of the race. Not relinquishing her position near the helm of the 250-woman competition, Mackay ultimately finished the race in third place, storming across the line with a time of 20:36.

“Friday was [Mackay’s] best race of the season,” said Binghamton head coach Annette Acuff.

Mackay’s third-place finish allowed her to punch her ticket to the NCAA Cross Country Championship for the second season in a row.

Last season, Mackay won the America East (AE) Cross Country Championship and was thrust straight into the national championship due to COVID-19. However, this fall, she had to compete for an automatic bid to nationals at the regional meet.

“[Last year] if you won your conference championship, you got an automatic bid, which I think simplified things quite a bit,” Acuff said. “It doesn’t make a huge difference … but [Mackay] had never competed at this high of a level before in the region.”

Mackay’s third-place finish on Friday was the highest-ever recorded by a Binghamton runner. The previous highest finish was seventh by Erik Van Ingen on the men’s team in 2009. Mackay was also one of two Binghamton runners to ever be named to the All-Northeast Regional Team.

The women’s 6K was won by Syracuse All-American senior Amanda Vestri, who crossed the finish line 31 seconds ahead of Mackay.

The BU men’s side was led by redshirt senior Dan Schaffer, who finished 23rd out of 235 runners in the 10K race. Despite winning the AE championship title earlier this month, Schaffer’s time of 31:01 fell behind three other runners from the conference.

“[Schaffer] had a little bit of a stomach bug that was bothering him, and it took a little while to get rid of that, but I think it threw him off to be totally honest,” Acuff said. “Unfortunately he just didn’t have his best day.”

Schaffer stuck with the leading pack for the first 5K of the event but fell behind heading toward the eighth kilometer of the race.

Of the five-man Binghamton team that competed in the 10K, sophomore Josh Stone came closest to Schaffer’s time, clocking in at 32:12 to take 67th.

“[Stone] had a tremendous performance,” Acuff said. “He probably had one of the best races of the day … He’s only a freshman eligibility-wise, so that’s really exciting for him and for our program.”

Behind Stone in 90th place was junior Matt Cavaliere, who posted a time of 32:32. Acuff said Cavaliere’s performance at the regional meet was a major improvement from his earlier competitions.

“[Cavaliere] ran much better than he had run at the conference championship,” Acuff said. “He hasn’t been running as consistently as he normally does, so it was nice to see him break out of that rut.”

The men took 14th out of 35 teams. Acuff said that the absence of junior Ryan Guerci hamstrung the overall team score.

“Ryan Guerci had to drop out because he wasn’t feeling well,” Acuff said. “That probably hurt the team’s performance, we might’ve been one or two places higher if he’d been able to race that day.”

The women’s side, however, finished 16th overall in the 36-team competition. Binghamton’s tied-highest overall finish at the NCAA Division I Regional meet in the program’s history was thanks in part to Mackay’s third-place finish as well as senior Aziza Chigatayeva’s placement at 41st (21:41) to help bring down the score.

At last season’s NCAA championship meet, Mackay finished 14th overall to earn her All-American honors. This year, the competition is set to include Ivy League schools and those which opted to compete at the NCAA Division I Indoor Track and Field Championship over the cross country event.

“The difference this year, more than anything, is that you have a lot more teams competing this year, like the Ivy League, who weren’t allowed to compete last year during cross country,” Acuff said. “You’re going to see a different competition level, primarily at the national championships this next week … It’ll be little bit more competitive for [Mackay] next Saturday.”

Mackay’s race at the fall 2021 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships is set to begin on Saturday, Nov. 20 at 10:20 a.m. at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee, Florida.